In Downtown Belleville, the construction’s only started: phase one of Build Belleville wraps up this winter, with phase two slated for the spring. But as progress becomes more visible, the torn-up streets are not proving to be the deterrent they were once forecast to be: in 2015, a dozen new businesses have hatched in the downtown core, with more to come before the end of the year and into the spring. As “For Lease” signs are removed from windows, they’re being replaced by a creative class of businesses that’s coming into it’s own in the downtown.
Cafes were some of the first to spearhead the trend, and one of the best things about these spaces is the open area they provide for culture-building and collaboration. Last December, the BDIA welcomed Gourmet Diem‘s inspired grilled cheeses and cookware, and in summer 2015 longtime downtown staple Sweet Escape moved into a heritage building and with a flick of the switch, grew into Urban Escape. L’Auberge de France‘s Saturday morning croissant-crowd and cult-following Belleville Club lunches, Cafe E‘s organic, fresh fare and Y’Wanna Hav A Cafe‘s commuter vibes fill out a cafe culture that is gaining momentum in the core.
The same goes for retail offerings – Kate’s Kitchen popped up this fall with a full stock of dreamy hostess gifts, and Elite Fashion filled in the style set alongside mainstays Boretski Gallery, Pure Honey and Miss Priss boutiques. Wedding and event vendors are so prevalent in the core that the BDIA traces out a dedicated Bridal Walk event each fall. In October, a handful of restaurants concentrated in the core came together to participate in a local procurement initiative that generated over $75,000 in economic impact – you might know it better as Quintelicious, where restaurants offered a prix-fixe meal crafted with all-local ingredients and purchased $20,000 in local products.
The potential for entrepreneurialism is alive in the downtown – historic architecture is a beckon call for creative minds, and these are some of the newest to join the scene in downtown Belleville:
The well-won recipient of this year’s “Pitch this Place” initiative, Erin Meiklejohn’s new Emerald Studio opened November 2015. Pitch this Place, a collaboration between the BDIA, Small Business Centre and City of Belleville offered entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business plans and win a year’s free rent in a downtown space. The studio is located in what was once an open carriageway between two buildings, sewn together by Paul Dinkel of downtown Dinkel’s & Paulo’s restaurants, and the space is still plastered with circus posters that hint at the Belleville of a century before. Clients can be fitted at 213A Front Street for custom lingerie, including mastectomy bras, corsets and swimwear and can join Erin for bra and corset-making classes that throwback to her grandmother’s profession as a seamstress in the region.
Lisa Morris & Peter Paylor bring together artists & artisans (including themselves) in their new popup gallery and studio space, located at 54 Bridge Street East. It’s chock-full of handmade jewellery, wood sculptures, pottery and original art, and also offers space for rotating exhibitions. Peter and Lisa are well-known in the area for their commitment to the local art scene, and visitors will find works from the duo and the collective that surrounds them. The studio is nestled amongst long-standing arts spaces like Gallery 121, Funk & Gruven and the Quinte Arts Council, in Bridge Street’s growing gallery district downtown.
Mrs B’s Bath, Body & Gifts began as one woman’s quest to understand the ingredients in the products she and her family were using. Starting with quality ingredients from Canadian suppliers, she crafted her own line of everyday bath and beauty products from scratch. Now, she’s teamed up with a dozen other female creatives to launch a collaborative space that will showcase both their wares and stories, spiralling the economic impact throughout her community.
While finance and big business are a strong, supportive backbone, it’s small business and the creative class that round out the economy. As the Build Belleville facelift takes shape, the area has proven it’s attractive for more than its historically lower real estate costs. The core is becoming a walkable, bikeable, collaborative community that attracts a growing movement of artists, designers, engineers, educators, chefs, entertainers and visionaries. The creative class is giving the city a competitive edge and beginning to attract those like them.